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If you have clients interested in speed, they’re probably runners. Competing in races and going for personal best times are great motivational tools for fitness. Your clients with the drive to do what it takes to get faster are fun to work with and make your job a little easier.
There are plenty of exercises to help them improve speed, but don’t restrict these workouts to your driven, runner clients.
Those who like to play pick up soccer games in the park; the clients who need more energy to keep up with their kids; and even your senior clients can all benefit from working on speed in all kinds of sports and activities.
For your runner clients, you can dig deep and do some selective workouts and exercises to help them get faster. For other clients, sneak these workouts in to change things up and help them develop the power and strength needed to move faster and more efficiently in everything they do.
Speed training refers to exercises that help a person reach their maximum speed potential. Some do this by increasing explosive strength. With strength comes power. Others work by improving speed endurance, enabling the athlete to maintain higher speeds for longer periods of time.
Sprints are a speed drill commonly used in athlete training programs. A sprint involves running short distances as fast as possible. Because the body cannot bring in oxygen quickly enough, the sprint is an anaerobic exercise.
Research indicates that although a person’s sprint performance depends largely on their genetic makeup, training can help (1). Some of the benefits that speed training provides include:
Increased stride length, making it possible to cover more distance in less time
Greater stride frequency, enabling you to move at a faster pace
Improved running economy, also making it easier to maintain your goal pace
More reactive strength, improving the performance of plyometric exercises
Better explosive speed, leading to faster access to the muscle’s strength
Enhanced endurance, allowing you to finish a longer event or training session
Fuller range of motion, which means more flexibility and agility
Stronger bones and tendons, reducing the risk of injury to these areas
Speed training can benefit clients of all types. Those who are training for a marathon can use speed training to improve their time, for instance. It also benefits those engaged in half marathon training or when training for a 5k or 10k.
Speed training is beneficial for any type of athlete who plays football, hockey, and soccer. All these sports rely heavily on speed for peak performance. The athlete must be able to engage in quick acceleration and deceleration. Speed training assists with this.
Speed training can be split into three categories or types: regular, assisted, and resisted.
In this type of speed training, no external force or resistance is applied. Sprinting is an example of a regular speed training exercise. The client simply tries to cover the shorter distance as quickly as possible. And there’s nothing in their way to hinder this ability.
Sprint training is a good speed exercise. This form of start and acceleration training involves running as fast as you can for 5 to 10 seconds, followed by a 60 to 90-second recovery.
Speed endurance training is another option. It is like sprinting, except the running periods are longer. They can range from 30 seconds in duration, up to three minutes.
Other regular speed training options include:
tempo run, or running at a pace that is around 30 seconds per mile slower than your 5k race pace
high intensity interval training, which involves alternating bursts of high-intensity exercise with short recovery phases
lateral shuffles, which can help you improve side acceleration and lateral speed
We'll dig into more of these speed exercises for the regular client a little later on in this article.
This speed training type is also known as overspeed training. It uses external forces to help the body increase speed while sprinting. One example is to sprint with the wind at your back. The force of the air pushes you forward, increasing stride frequency.
This type of speed training helps athletes reach their maximum speed. It provides speed and acceleration improvements, giving the athlete a little help along the way.
Several exercises fall into the assisted speed training category. Among them are:
running with the wind at your back
elastic cord assistance running
increasing speed while running on a treadmill
Resisted speed training uses some type of resistance during the speed drill to increase leg muscle strength and endurance. It also increases muscle stride length. If you do a sprint while pulling a weighted sled, you are engaging in resisted speed training.
Resisted sprint training exercises can include:
sprinting with a parachute
sprinting against an elastic band
pulling a tire or sled while sprinting
wearing a weighted jacket while sprinting
All of these drills create resistance during speed exercise. Some provide more resistance than others. So, choose the type of resistance most suitable for you or your client’s fitness level and goals.
This type of training is better suited for a more advanced athlete. Incorporating resistance too early can increase injury risk. It may also make it harder for a lower-level athlete to keep proper form.
To be a faster runner you have to, well, run more and run faster. By pushing the limits at least once a week, your running clients will build fitness, endurance, and speed over time. There are several different kinds of speed workouts and drills you can do with them:
Take your workout outdoors and find some hills to charge up for a great speed workout. You can use a treadmill with an adjustable incline, but going outside is much more fun. Uphill sprints at an all-out speed for 10 to 20 seconds should be followed by enough recovery time to bring the heart rate down a little.
This can be a really intense workout, so ease your runners into it. You don’t need a very steep hill either. Start out small, do just a few reps per workout, and build on that strength with steeper inclines, more reps, and less recovery time.
Intervals runs are like HIIT workouts: you work at high intensity for a short period of time, recover, and do it again. If you have access to a track, use it for your interval speed workouts. You can adjust a basic interval workout for each client and their current fitness level:
Run hard for 50 meters, walk or jog for another 50
Run hard for 100 meters, walk or jog for 50 meters
Run hard for 150 meters, walk or jog for 50 meters
Run hard for 200 meters, walk or job for 50 meters
Work back down to 50 meters and repeat once or twice for clients who are up to the challenge
Interval workouts can also include longer distances, but make sure your clients moderate their pace. The 50 to 200 meter hard runs should be at an all-out pace. For 400 meters and more, take the pace down a little.
Learn everything you need to know about high intensity interval training and how to incorporate it into your clients’ routines with this detailed ISSA blog post.
This funny-sounding word means speed play in Swedish. It’s an apt name because the double purpose of Fartlek runs is to improve speed and fitness in a fun way. The general idea is to alternate running hard and jogging, but not necessarily with any specific plan.
So, for instance, you might run hard for two minutes, jog for one, run pretty fast for five minutes, and then jog for three minutes, and so on. Or, you can pick something in the distance, like a mailbox, and sprint for it, followed by a recovery jog.
The idea is to really switch gears a lot during a run, but in a fun, informal way. Start your clients out on Fartleks with a prescribed workout, but then let them choose how they vary their pace during these “fun runs.”
A Fartlek run is especially helpful for your endurance runners, those that do marathons. Incorporate Fartlek methods into longer runs and they will get better at recruiting different muscle fibers and coping with fatigue during long races.
This may seem counterintuitive, but if your running clients aren’t doing a long run at a slower pace each week, add it to their schedule. A long run helps build aerobic capacity, which will help improve speed during shorter events.
Aim for just one long run per week, and the length depends on the individual. It should be about 20 percent of their weekly mileage. Effort during these runs should be about 70 percent, so that you’re working hard but can still talk.
A common mistake that runners make is to avoid strength training. Strategically building muscle mass helps runners reduce the risk of injury, recover more quickly, and of course, run faster. Here are some important strength moves for your clients to at least twice a week as they build speed:
Most people ignore their glutes, but these are the powerhouses of running. They are the muscles that keep us upright and propelling forward. Strengthen the glutes at least twice a week for speed improvement. Some good moves include:
Glute bridges, adding weight to progress or doing one leg at a time
Clamshells to hit underserved muscles
Single leg squats to really focus on one side at a time
To run and move faster, you need your legs. Building strength in the quads, hamstrings, and other big muscle groups will improve speed over time. Aim for at least two leg strength training sessions per week that include: squats, deadlifts, and lunges.
This is a tough workout, but one that will improve overall lower body strength and help your clients develop the power needed to run faster. Start out small, with less weight and shorter distances. Progress by adding weight and pushing distance and speed.
Improving speed isn’t just about running faster. For anyone, improving foot speed, agility, and reaction time is important for functional movements and athletic performance. Here are some agility and speed exercises you can use with your clients:
Use a fitness ladder on the ground to do foot drills that improve speed and agility. You don’t even need a ladder. You can use lines on the ground or tape outside in the parking lot. Start with forward and backward hops over the lines or ladder, then move to single-leg moves and lateral movements for a greater challenge.
High knee drills are great for building speed and agility in food and leg movements. Think of the classic football drill of running through tires. Start your clients out with something a little easier to avoid falls and injuries, though. Use ladders for high knees and progress to low hurdles or tires.
Equally simple are dot drills, which only require tape. Tape dots or Xs on the ground and have your client move quickly from one to another in specific patterns. Give them the pattern in advance and work on speed in changing directions between each dot or X.
Then, try doing the same types of movements but using commands rather than a pre-set pattern. Your client will have to listen and wait for your direction, responding as quickly as possible.
You can also vary dot drills by including hand touches. Start with hops and jumps between dots and progress to jumps followed by touching down on the spot. This makes it more challenging and introduces some upper body speed and agility.
Check out this ISSA blog post to get more ideas for speed and agility exercises.
Speed exercises are just one way to help your clients move faster. Other strategies for boosting speed include:
running with proper form so it doesn’t negatively affect your pace
running regularly, enabling your body to build endurance and improve finish times
engaging in strength training, which improves running economy and helps you run faster
investing in running clothing, providing a more comfortable training session while working to increase speed
using lighter gear so it doesn’t weigh you down
An important aspect of improving speed is also giving the body adequate time to recover. If you push it hard day after day, it increases your injury risk. Overtraining can also negatively affect your speed, making you go slower instead of faster.
Research published in the Journal of Physical Fitness, Medicine & Treatment in Sports indicates that training frequency when doing speed work depends on training type (2). If you are doing resisted speed training, aim for two to three sessions per week.
The frequency varies for assisted speed training based on the drills you do. Both downhill and assisted towed running can be done three times per week, but elastic cord running can be performed six days per week.
When first starting out, incorporate speed training into the routine once or twice per week. Build up from there, increasing training sessions as strength, endurance, and speed increase.
As a personal trainer, some of your clients may have speed goals. And speed work is as varied as any other kind of training. Whether you have a client who runs marathons and wants to get a PR at their next race, or a client who is just getting healthier, incorporating workouts that improve speed provides great benefits and will help anyone hit their goals faster.
Implementing the exercises above can help them increase their speed. It can also be beneficial for you to take a course that goes into speed training in greater depth. A course to consider is one that teaches you how to work with your clients as a running coach.
If this is of interest to you, ISSA offers Running Coach certification. This course covers several speed development exercises and the science behind them. It also includes run training programs for clients of all fitness levels.
If you’re not a trainer yet, but wish you were, consider getting certified with ISSA. Learn everything you need to know to help clients meet their goals with ISSA's Certified Personal Trainer Course.
Start your dream career completely online! Take the course, pass the certification final exam, and be guaranteed a job - or your money back!
Haugen, T., Seiler, S., Sandbakk, Ø. et al. The Training and Development of Elite Sprint Performance: an Integration of Scientific and Best Practice Literature. Sports Med - Open 5, 44 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40798-019-0221-0
Juniper Publishers. (2017, March). Resisted and assisted training for Sprint Speed: Brief review. Journal of Physical Fitness, Medicine & Treatment in Sports. Retrieved February 2, 2023, from https://juniperpublishers.com/jpfmts/pdf/JPFMTS.MS.ID.555554.pdf